Ava Bigtree and her siblings, Kiwi and Osceola, live in their parents alligator wrestling park called Swamplandia! Their mother is the star of their headlining show, but when she is diagnosed with cancer and passes away the family is faced with a failing park, a father in denial, and three children who are itching to grow up.
Swamplandia! is a very well written and character focused novel. This is both a strength and a weakness of the book depending on what kind of reader you are and what kind of book you enjoy. The writing isn’t heavy on adjectives and descriptions (the writing is still very beautiful), but it is full of side notes to the characters’ histories and peeks into their memories. Of course this allows readers to get a wonderful understanding of the characters, but if you want a story that goes directly from point A to point B you might find these tangents a little disruptive.
The main plot itself is a little weak. The story is also very slow, but this novel appears to be more character focused than plot focused so I can forgive it. However, if you’re looking for something gripping and fast paced this may not be a good choice. By the end I felt slightly unfulfilled. The adventures of Ava, Kiwi, and Osceola are mostly tied up, but their stories are just beginning in many ways. Though this makes the characters appear even more realistic, I still want to know about the next chapter of their lives and the fate of their park.
My other slight disappointment with Swamplandia! is that I was led to believe that it has elements of magical realism in it. Because of this I questioned reality throughout the story. Like Ava, however, I soon realized that the world lacked magic. Ava grows up and faces the harsh realities of her imaginings and it kind of feels like I grew up with her through my reading. So, in a way, this isn’t a disappointment, but a part of me still wishes that the magical elements were real.